The Dominican Republic’s Department of Migration announced on Tuesday, June 30, that more than 25,000 people had “voluntarily returned to their country of origin” since June 18, the deadline for its new nationalization plan.
On September 2013, the country’s Constitutional Court affirmed the definition of citizenship as established in the 2010 constitution: the redefined term excludes descendants of migrant workers, even if they were born in the country. The ruling, applied retroactively for almost a century, impacted hundreds of thousands Dominicans of Haitian descent.
As a result of public outcry, the government then passed a special law that allows children of migrants with official identification to remain as citizens and those without documents to apply for a path to nationalization. In addition, the National Regularization Plan for Foreigners was created for those without any documentation to apply for legal status. However, an overwhelming number of applications, combined with procedural irregularities, have left many in stateless limbo.
Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti Brian Concannon told the PanAm Post most people should not be considered “self-deported.” He explained that they are voluntarily crossing the border only out of fear of violent expulsion by the police, and of being separated from all their possessions as the plan’s registration deadline expired.
“There have been a series of attacks within the Dominican Republic against people perceived to be Haitian, and a lot of people have just come to the decision that the risks of [staying] are greater than the negatives of going to Haiti,” Concannon said.
The Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also confirmed that more than 300,000 people registered for the regularization plan. Florida International University (FIU) law professor Ediberto Roman told the PanAm Post about his disagreement with the court’s retroactive decision, explaining that it stripped many of their citizenship and the ensuing laws now require them to provide proof of their status.
“Think about the logic of [the law],” he said. “Yesterday you were a citizen; this morning you wake up, and you are undocumented, and after that you have to register to establish that you are not here illegally.”
To process potential “repatriations” for those with an irregular immigration status, the Dominican government set up seven receiving centers across the border. Officials highlighted that final decisions will only take place on an individual basis without any “mass deportations.”
US Ambassador in the Dominican Republic James Brewster visited the centers earlier this month, and said he has no doubt that “when people arrive here they will be treated well.”
Nonetheless, suspicions arose following an event last week in Miami, where professor Roman made reference to alleged Haitian concentration camps in the Dominican Republic. He received hate mail and phone calls for his remarks, and later told the PanAm Post that it is was clearly a matter that needed to be “investigated further.”
“All I can say is that I made reference to the media reports of it, I haven’t visited any of the camps,” Roman said. “I can only refer to what I have read in various accounts concerning it, and there have been very strong reactions by officials, reporters, and individuals associated with the Dominican Republic.”
Last year, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) found the country’s nationalization law to be in violation of the American Convention of Human Rights. They also concluded that the government was guilty of depriving a group of Haitians of their freedom, following their expulsion from the country in the decade to 2000.
Rather than heeding to reform appeals, the Dominican government denied the accusations, declared the jurisdiction of the IACHR unconstitutional, and forged ahead with their immigration policy.
He argued that cases of legal limbo were avoided with the passing of the special law, that accusations of racial discrimination were unfounded, that mass repatriations would not occur, and that claims that the plan was set up to fail were untrue and only part of an international campaign to discredit the nation.
Irregularities in the regularization plans’ implementation, however, have led to a continued state of uncertainty.
The Jesuit Service to Migrants in Jimani (a border town and one of the main points of access to Haiti) denounced over the weekend that the government’s newly opened offices in the province lacked the necessary resources to help migrants. The organization’s dispatch stated that almost 200 people waited on Friday for assistance in Jimani, but none received it.
“In a maneuver to confuse and mislead national and international public opinion, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has asked the workers of this office … to open the offices, comply with a work schedule, but not assist anyone who comes by,” the dispatch stated, also mentioning irregularities in processing migrant’s documents in other centers around the country.
Speaking at a regional summit in Guatemala on Saturday, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina supported the country’s immigration reforms, emphasizing they were made within the boundaries of the constitution.
Medina also highlighted the United States’ own problems with illegal immigration, and said that in order to rectify the Dominican migration system, they too had to make reforms.
“We decided to take the initiative and give documentation to every person living in the country in accordance to [his or her] situation,” he said, adding that the guiding principles for reform were “strict respect for Dominican laws, and the protection of human rights.”
Yet FIU professor Roman posits that even though some individuals affected by the laws are migrants, the majority of those dealing with the repercussions of the retroactivity are not: “By making it an immigration issue they make it more palatable because other countries are also struggling with them.”
“This is not an immigration issue; it is a citizenship, constitutional law issue.”